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Terence SweeneyJuly 21, 2023
Photo by Lennon Caranzo on Unsplash

We are in the midst of a eucharistic revival in the American Catholic Church. No doubt, we need a revitalization. Mass attendance is declining along with belief in the true presence of Christ. Decades of scandal, declining vocations and the negative impacts of church closures because of Covid-19 have left the church in the United States not unlike the paralytic who had to be lowered into the room to be healed by Jesus. Like the paralytic, we need reviving.

There is much to hope for in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ project of local and national revitalization. It rightly emphasizes education, formation and devotion. Centering on the doctrine of transubstantiation, the bishops have called attention to eucharistic adoration and processions as a way of deepening our participation in the Mass. But to peruse their website and their proposed activities, one cannot help but notice something is missing. To put it simply, where is the blood? The website’s powerful short video features multiple elevations of the eucharistic host, the appearance of monstrances during processions and adoration and scenes showing people receiving the body of Christ. But only once, and rather briefly, do we see a chalice, and no one is shown drinking from it.

There cannot be a full-fledged eucharistic revival without a precious blood revival.

This is no small oversight. There cannot be a full-fledged eucharistic revival without a precious blood revival. Christ offered his body and blood at the Last Supper; he poured out his blood for our salvation. The robes of the saints are “made white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14). The church was born from Christ when blood and water flowed from his side. The cup raised at Mass is the “chalice of benediction” in which we have “communion with the Blood of Christ” (1 Cor 10:16).

St. John XXIII knew this well. Alongside his calling of the Second Vatican Council, he committed himself to spreading and deepening the devotion to the precious blood. Beyond adding it to the Divine Praises, he published an apostolic letter to promote devotion to it. There he declares “unlimited [is] the effectiveness of the God-Man’s Blood—just as unlimited as the love that impelled him to pour it out for us.” The saintly pontiff wanted to inspire our unlimited love in return.

Why should we devote ourselves to the precious blood? Because we know “from out of that great wide wound in His side” flows the “divine Blood cascading down into all of the Church’s sacraments.” From this outflowing, we are “reborn in the torrents of that Blood.”

There are concrete ways to support a precious blood revival. We should follow John XXIII’s lead and promote the Litany of the Precious Blood. It could be included as a part of the processions and Benedictions that rightly are a part of the revival. When homilists prepare to preach on the Eucharist, they should make sure to emphasize both the body and the blood.

Christ shed his blood for love of us; the shared reception of his blood should lead to our overflowing love.

We should also prioritize reception of the blood. As John XXIII wrote, adoration of the precious blood “achieves its normal fulfillment in sacramental communion with the same Blood.” He still saw this as a priestly action that was only indirectly participated in by the laity. But Vatican II’s emphasis on the priestly character of the laity and their full, active and conscious participation has rightly led to communion in both kinds. This practice in no way contradicts our belief in what the Council of Trent affirms—“the whole Christ is contained under each form”— but reception of the Eucharist in both kinds is a more perfect partaking. Christ—who is the norm for all liturgical actions—offered both forms; so too, then, every Mass always includes both.

[Related: It’s time to bring back receiving Communion from the chalice]

We ought to treat all the baptized as worthy to receive Communion in both kinds so that they can be nourished by Christ’s body and blood. This was the practice of the church for the first half of its existence and remains the practice with our Orthodox fellow believers. Further, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “the sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds, since in that form the sign of the Eucharistic meal appears more clearly.” This makes the receptive quality of the blood itself appear more clearly. Where the Body of Christ can be reposed in the tabernacle or processed through the streets, the blood can only be received. To allow for full reception by the baptized restores this receptivity so that the whole Body of Christ can be suffused by the Blood of Christ.

In receiving under both kinds, we encounter the mystery of being washed in the blood of the Lamb and being born from the side of Christ’s body. Upon the lintels of our mouths, the blood is marked so that the Angel of Death will pass over us. Finally, in the blood, which we receive in the guise of wine, we are reminded of the joy of our salvation. As the Psalmist sings, it is “wine which makes glad the hearts of men” (Ps 104:15). In receiving from the chalice with the right devotion, we are filled with the joy of this most precious blood.

In receiving under both kinds, we encounter the mystery of being washed in the blood of the Lamb and being born from the side of Christ’s body.

Along these lines, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal explains this fullness of sign such that we encounter in a fuller way “the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as also the connection between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatological banquet in the Kingdom of the Father.” A eucharistic revival will require greater fidelity to the liturgy. Too often our celebration of the liturgy has been marred by disregard for the rubrics. Not only should all parishes offer Communion in both kinds; a strong emphasis should be on devout reception by all. Kneeling, bowing and carefully receiving are ways we show that we in fact hold this blood to be most precious. Those who do not receive should not just walk by the chalice but should reverently bow.

John XXIII hoped that devotion to the precious blood would help the faithful to be “shining examples” such that “Christ’s Church would far more effectively fulfill its mission.” A precious blood revival is expressed not only by holding to the right teaching regarding the Eucharist but also by living out the Eucharist in our love for others. Christ shed his blood for love of us; the shared reception of his blood should lead to our overflowing love. This love can never just reside at the center of the church; it flows from the center to the margins. To live out a precious blood revival means letting love flow freely and overabundantly to those cast to the side of church and world. In this, the blood of Christ is expressive of a synodal church; flowing to each and all, the blood summons us to holiness and ecclesial action.

In John XXIII’s letter, he looks back to St. John Chrysostom to depict what a precious blood revival would look like. Chrysostom, speaking to the congregation before they receive from the chalice, proclaims, “Let us come back from the table like lions breathing out fire, thus becoming terrifying to the Devil.” Through his blood, Christ fires us with love such that the sins of our hearts, the social evils of the world and the power of the devil are driven away. This will happen when we receive “mindful of our Head and the love He has shown for us.” Mindfully receiving, we live the love shown to us. And love transforms.

Imagine a church full of baptized people devoted to the blood and receiving the body and the blood in their fullness. Sharing this sign, we would be like lions driving out demons. And in our devotion to the blood poured out for us, we would feel the inner necessity to pour out our love for others. Now that is a eucharistic revival.

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